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Davis, California

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Sorority governance perpetuates ‘old-fashioned’ practices, according to some UC Davis sorority members

Four UC Davis sorority women believe the Greek system must reform unequal social expectations for sorority and fraternity members

By LYRA FARRELL — features@theaggie.org


Since 1902, the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) has been the governing body that oversees 26 sororities across the U.S. and Canada, including chapters of nine sororities at UC Davis, providing them with guidelines for upholding certain social and academic standards. Since 1975, the NPC has enacted a “policy of alcohol-free and illegal substance-free facilities for all housed chapters,” meaning that any sorority guided by the NPC cannot host or hold events that serve alcohol.

The equivalent umbrella organization for fraternities, the Interfraternity Council (IFC), on the other hand, doesn’t have such a rule. Some UC Davis sorority members, like student A, who requested to remain anonymous to prevent retribution from her panhellenic chapter or its members, explained why this discrepancy between the Greek system’s rules frustrates her.

“None of us like it and none of us enjoy it, I just think some of us more intensely recognize that it’s sexist and it’s wrong,” student A said.

Student B, a second UC Davis sorority member who also requested anonymity, also to prevent retribution from her panhellenic chapter or its members, pointed out that the rule put in place by the NPC showcases the different standards women and men are judged by, both in and out of Greek life.

“I feel like sometimes we have to try harder to better our image because as women, I feel like we’re generally put into boxes,” student B said.

Student B said that — at least in her experience — the stereotyping of sorority women seems to be an inevitable part of Greek life. She said that from what she’s seen in her Greek community, though both the fraternity and sorority systems come with stereotypes, additional, sexist stereotypes seem to be put on the sorority women.

“Men are allowed to drink and party […] and still be [seen as] smart, where I feel like [with] women in organizations like this, people put us into a box,” student B said. “So if we’re going to be put into a box, I don’t want to be put into a box of an idiot girl who doesn’t care about anything except drinking and hooking up with frat boys.”

According to student C, a third sorority member who requested anonymity for the purpose of preventing retribution from her panhellenic chapter or its members, apart from social stigma, there are often very real consequences disobeying NPC’s sobriety rule. During formal recruitment, sorority women are expected to observe a “dry period,” during which members are not allowed to drink alcohol or generally attend parties where it is served. Student C explained that this rule can cause division among the panhellenic community, and that it does not apply to fraternity chapters.

“It was encouraged for sorority members to report girls in other sororities if they saw them at parties, and if they reported you […], your sorority would be fined and in turn your sorority would fine you, but in frats, [there’s] none of this,” student C said. “The discrepancy there is honestly astounding and when you really start to think about it, it’s so messed up.”

In student B’s experience, there are also major differences between fraternities’ and sororities’ “recruitment” processes. Student B explained that a fairly widely-established guideline that panhellenic chapters adhere to is to not discuss the “three Bs” (which student B names as: booze, boys and bibles), during the sorority recruitment process. She clarified that though this is not an official guideline, but more of an unofficial rule, she has been personally instructed to follow it and each Greek Life member who spoke for this article also reported that it is enforced in their sororities. Student B believes that this guideline diminishes the intelligence and values of sorority women.

“They don’t trust us enough to be able to talk about [those things] and still be smart, educated, active members of the community,” Student B said.

Student A believes that the recruitment process for sororities should involve more open communication surrounding topics that pertain greatly to the safety of sorority women, yet are restricted.

“It’s so uncomfortable the things we’re not allowed to talk about,” student A said. “We’re young women […] and we’re a lot more open than we used to be, and we’re trying to be a lot more sex-positive. Our sorority’s philanthropy is sexual violence awareness, and a huge part of sexual awareness is understanding sexuality in general. We still aren’t allowed to talk about our sex lives with our friends, we’re not allowed to talk about alcohol.”

Student D, another anonymous sorority member who requested anonymity to prevent retribution from her panhellenic chapter or its members,  added that in addition to the existing stigma around discussing alcohol and fraternities, sorority members who do choose to drink have to be careful about drinking at fraternities. She expressed that she and others often feel uneasy about accepting drinks at fraternity houses, as they cannot know for sure what is in them.

“If I’m going to a party, I can’t trust any of the alcohol at the frat so at that point I feel like it’s not even worth it,” student D said. “They’ve developed such a negative reputation especially surrounding sexual abuse and alcohol that sorority women pre-game to avoid [the possibility of] being drugged.”

According to student D, there are some ways in which the sobriety rule makes it easier for fraternities to raise money for their philanthropies.

“We raise around $10 to $15,000 per charity event,” student D said. “We still are raising a lot of money, but I know for a fact that frats have an easier time. Where a sorority might do a week-long event to raise this amount of money, a frat could host two parties, $5 each admittance, and raise a similar amount of money.”

Student A said that she believes the governance of sororities is based on a problematic and outdated view of feminism.

“It’s not very inclusive of women of different experiences, women who have less money,” student A said. “It still is very much a feminism that is only for women who behave.”

Changing the way that sororities operate is a large and daunting undertaking, which would mostly require work at the level of the university, according to student A.

“Yes, we report back to the bigger chapter, but they’re not spying on us at all times — our board on campus enforces these things that are so backwards and so old-fashioned,” student A said. “It’s something that we could change but it feels so hopeless because it requires finding a girl in every sorority who’s like us […] and getting them on the board and making sure women like that keep getting re-elected.”

Though changing these long-standing policies is a difficult undertaking, Student C believes that the first step chapters can take is calling out the antiquated systems that inform Greek communities.

“It’s really hard to make that change especially since the easiest thing to do is just to be a sheep and follow the crowd and be like, ‘It sucks but it’s fine, it’s whatever,’” student C said. “But it’s not fine, it’s not okay, and to be able to recognize that is the first step.”

In student B’s opinion, the reputation of sorority women shouldn’t be impugned simply because they want to drink alcohol.

“You should be able to have fun on the weekends and that’s okay,” Student B said. “It doesn’t make you any less of a student or any less of a ‘respectable young lady.’”


Written by: Lyra Farrell — features@theaggie.org


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